Photographed on the March 3rd photo day in DC.
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[Content note: sexual assault, mental health]
Although this photograph was taken over a year and a half ago, I’ve been hesitant to publicly share it, but with my birthday tomorrow, there are a lot of different emotions bubbling up, and I have some things I would like to write through.
You see, November 8 is not just my birthday; it is also the 15th anniversary of being raped. It was years and years before I would even admit to myself that’s what it was. I wasn’t drunk. I wasn’t pulled into a dark alley. I wasn’t held at knifepoint. I simply accepted a ride from an attractive man I considered a friend, someone who did not listen to me when I said “no”. Rape culture convinced me that I’d done everything wrong, and the harsh and uncaring words from the people in my life at that time did nothing to counter that theory. It was the easiest thing in the world to quickly spiral into a deep depression when some people called me a lying slut while others engaged in many rounds of victim-blaming.
At that time, not one person said to me “You did nothing wrong. I love you, and we’ll get through this.” That was what I desperately wanted to hear, even though I couldn’t quite articulate it then, given my terrible communication skills and inability to process my emotions. As more and more people disbelieved me, the blame I placed on myself grew burdensome, leading my depression to worsen. After failing out of college and couch-surfing for a couple months, I voluntarily committed myself to a behavioral health facility, where I was sympathetically informed that I had post-traumatic stress disorder. It wasn’t a cure, but it was a start.
I spent much of my 20s trying to navigate a world of emotions with the baggage of sexual assault weighing heavily on me. I finally started therapy again in 2007, and worked hard with the best doctor I’d ever had; he never blamed me, he listened carefully, and he offered me solutions instead of simply telling me what to do. We trusted each other, and I began meeting the goals I’d set for myself, the most important of them being “stop feeling like the worst kind of shit every waking moment of my life”.
As I learned how to not only identify my emotions, but also how to deal with them, I realized that the relationships I was building around that time were getting better. My friends were now true friends, thoughtful and affectionate people who would support me when I needed it, and who would also call on me when I was needed. Until that moment, I never thought that friends would respect me as someone trustworthy and strong; that realization was huge, but also scary.
I don’t write this to claim that “it gets better”, because sometimes it does not. There were years when my birthday was a terrifying reminder of being abandoned in addition to being raped. There are still moments in time when I feel small and insignificant. Every once in a while, I’m struck by a panic attack for no immediately-known reason. The difference between then and now is that now I know (and know it deep in my heart) that I am not alone. This year, my birthday will be a celebration of my friendships and the love that we share in both the good times and the bad.
I also write this for anyone out there who may need to hear it. If you are feeling the bad feelings, and you think that no one gets you, I want you to know that I am here and I understand, even if I have no idea who you are. You’ve done nothing wrong. I love you, and you are not alone. We’ll get through this.